Brian Edwards Media

The BBC’s Eddie Mair with Boris Johnson – Is this the style of interviewing we want to see on our TV screens here?

50 Comments:

  1. I must have become desensitized because it seemed pretty mild to me.
    I can think of a few NZ politicians I’d like to see interviewed like that.
    Or perhaps that’s your point, too.

  2. Boris didn’t do at all badly, I thought. Eddie Mair on the other hand is the best broadcaster I have ever seen or heard.

  3. It would be refreshing to have a programme of this style of interviewing here, where the focus of attention is the interviewee and facial grimaces etc are captured while difficult questions are being asked. Typical politician who can’t answer a simple question without obfuscating.

    • “Typical politician who can’t answer a simple question without obfuscating.”

      I can’t think of any high-profile person anywhere in the world, from any walk of life who, when asked about having supplied the address of someone to someone else wishing to knee-cap him, wouldn’t obfuscate. I bloody would, that’s for sure.

      You single out politicians unfairly here, Edward.

      • Nonsense. There are no saints in politics and they simply can’t afford to be honest. It might put people off voting for them or go against the image their party likes to portray. They are an especially greasy sub species of humanity. The country has never run better than the time we had a hung parliament. So many of them in the main parties seem more concerned with their salaries and benefits, rather than the lot of the ordinary working New Zealander. I might just vote for the Green Party this coming election, if Labour can’t lift their game.

        • Few would argue with your stance on politicians, but we were discussing obfuscation and how anyone would be guilty of it, if asked the question Boris Johnson was asked.

          • Non do any of the slippery arts better better than politicians and voters of course get what they deserve.

            [Recipe for political success:] “If a politician during a campaign finds it necessary to resort to flattery, he should spread it on, not in thin layers, but with a trowel, or better yet, a shovel. Politicians should not forget that voters never grow weary of illusory promises. Politicians should ever remember that the electorate suspects and distrusts men of superb intellect, calmness, and serenity. And, finally, the politician must always tell people what they want to hear.” Senator Henry Fountain Ashurst (1874–1962)

  4. To harangue Boris Johnson about whether he wants to be PM or not is just a waste of time. No politician in a western democracy is going to give a straight answer to that question. Every journalist knows this, so to ask the question is just laziness. Rule of thumb – if it’s worth asking the politician this question, then you can assume the answer is yes, so move on.

    It is possible that the accusations were an attempt to put Johnson off and say something silly, but such methods have little chance of success with someone like Johnson. He is made of Teflon, so all I can assume is that Eddie Mair either has a chip on his shoulder about toffs, or he just wanted to make a name for himself.

    • Of course “No politician in a western democracy is going to give a straight answer” to any question really, but the wriggling as they try to divert or obstruficate speaks volumes. That’s the point, especially if the camera catches all that.

    • I agree; I was disappointed in Eddie Mair who was playing the chippy Scot again; thought he was better than that.

  5. Of course the premise – do we want this style of interview on NZ screens? is a bit spurious. When was the last time there was an extended interview with a senior politician in this country? They famously don’t front up. John Campbell has repeatedly reported that ministers refuse invitations to discuss the matters of the day.

    As for the interviewer’s style, smirking, parsimonious wee Scots waiting in ambush aren’t really much worse than posturing presenters on TV3’s 3rd Degree (though their stories have improved from carpark clampers to the excellent item about Tuhoe the other week).

    Graydon Carter wrote in a recent Vanity Fair editorial -“Magazine stories, the good ones anyway, are generally a combination of elements: access, narrative and disclosure…” The notion extends to all journalism. Perhaps we have got not ‘the perfect storm’in journalism, but the perfect Doldrom. Politicians deny access. The narrative is stymied by programme commissioners and current affairs bosses who are more concerned with format than substance and the magnetic attraction of ratings contests. Obsfucation of the kind John Key has turned into high art i.e. never engage the issue and never concede that the audience/constituents in our democracy might just image that some issues are worth worrying about.

    When the role of news gathering, reportage and journalism is left with little more that puff pieces and press releases to contend with – the consequence can only be the atrophied accompt filling time between the ads.

    • Yes that Tuhoe interview was good wasn’t it. Mind you Guyon Espiner trying to look cool riding that horse didn’t come off. He looked decidedly nervous.

      • I’m with you on Espiner – he clearly realises how silly he’s going to look, but can’t stop himself writhing and thrutching. I thought the Tuhoe questions were very soft, though, with both Espiner and Garner each clearly waiting for the other to pull the trigger. Which neither did. Because maybe they didn’t have the ammo. Seems the modern 2nd degree interviewer asks the scripted questions but can’t run off the cuff with a supplimentary to whatever answer they get.

    • Not too long ago, Guyon Espiner had Steven Joyce on the defensive in a 60 Minutes piece on the Sky City wheeler-deal. Sadly it seems to be no longer online, with 60 Minutes going to Prime.

      http://www.tv3.co.nz/Apr-1—The-Big-Gamble/tabid/2059/articleID/76548/Default.aspx

  6. Nice touch by the interviewer tapping Boris with
    his pen.

    Difficult because Boris is so cheerfully dominant.

    But considering he is a politician I liked Boris
    he seemed quite transparent and real. He was even transparent about diverting questions about himself.

    “Your a nasty peice of work” was a great touch. Comepletely washed off Boris.

    Lovely pace as he keeps rounding in on the “Do you want to be the PM” question.

    Yes I’d like to see more of this style on NZ screens. It reveals the person.

  7. I can’t remember a political interview on NZ television in recent times with such a clear line of probing questions. Excellent work.

  8. No! No! No! We do not want any shennagins like that sort of interviewing here. Our great political leaders must preserve their rectitude and must only appear when the ground is safe. For heavens sake! Imagine Mr Key fronting up to questioning like that.
    Might make him uncomfortable.
    Disaster for the Economy.
    Disaster for the cuddly comfort and trust of voters.
    Disaster for the complacency of Middle Class NZ.
    Disaster for the creeping loss of Democracy

    Marshmallow for ever say I.

  9. Well, I watched it and I have to say I can’t think of anything significant I got from the time invested. It was on a par with the average Winston Peters interview. Boris’s Telegrah columns are more interesting and informative.

  10. To answer your question s to whether we want that interviewing style in NZ, I don’t mind it.

    While the interviewer exhibits the pious self-righteousness of all journalists in wanting to reduce complexity to a single interpretation of the worst kind, he also allows the subject the opportunity to respond. That at least ensures some reasonableness.

  11. Mair made his point early on and should have left it at that. The longer he pursued the subject, the more Johnson was able to trivialise the accusations, and gain the sympathy vote.

    More a battle of egos which is a trap for many interviewers and politicians.

  12. You may not agree with Boris Johnson’s support of the Tory’s but he won the sympathy vote. Clever politician, not so clever interviewer.

    My comments are not intended to make your head swell Brian but back in the day your style of interviewing was less about point scoring and more about revealing what was really going on in the interviewee’s mind.

    I would like to see more of that.

  13. Most enjoyable interview.It was also entertaining. A point possibly lost on most New Zealand television networks. The interviewer never lost his cool and allowed Boris sufficient ground to have his say.

    • Yes thats an interesting point pjr, perhaps the interviewer is more skilled than appears on first take, your right, he did allow Boris to have his say!

      Its been so long since we have had anything of this interviewing standard in NZ, one forgets!

  14. I didn’t know so much about Boris before this interview. But I now have an opinion. It’s a brilliant and incisive mind that Eddie Mair has. Surely he is known in the UK as an enquiring interviewer. So what compels politicians to turn up there for such an interview?

  15. I found that interview to be quite sedate, and very interesting. I do not think it deserved the labels it got, it was intellectual, thought-provoking and by most part quite civil. Moreover, I would like to see more of that interview style in New Zealand. However, TVNZ will not offer that (the child-ising of current affairs). ANd John Cambell tends to talk over his guests and make it all about him — making it truly the “John Cambell” show.

  16. I think Boris Johnson made trouble for himself by being evasive. Tatooed on his forehead was “I have something to hide”. His coyness about prime-ministerial ambitions back-fired. A “train-wreck” interview for the interviewee. I am surprised at his lack of skill.

    There are many techniques for deflecting the force of an aggressive interviewer: Brian Edwards recommends telling the truth.

    David MacGregor asked: “When was the last time there was an extended interview with a senior politician in this country?” I have interviewed the following MPs (John Banks, Kennedy Graham, Peter Dunne, Sir Roger Douglas, Hone Harawira – also Titewhai Harawira) on Face Television (formerly Triangle Television) in the last several months. They are “long-form” interviews, about 28 minutes with no interruptions, and aim to be “inquisitive but not inquisitorial”. All the above interviews (“Conversations”) are accessible at http://www.youtube.com/user/noelcheer
    Face Television recently found lodgings on Sky at channel 89.

  17. Gerard, what Boris Johnson is saying is universally appealing. Whether from the Right or Left, the message is, we have to get our backyards sorted.

    Pretty obvious eh!?

    But wait, HOW?

    At what cost?

    And to whom?

  18. Well I learnt that Boris is a skilled and gifted diverter with a disarming personality and a decidedly dodgy character that would make me reluctant to vote for him. I kept trying to imagine the interviewer trying this style on Muldoon.

    • Well, I guess you’ll be happy to vote for Red Ken then, the 69 year old hard socialist batchelor who lives with his mum and keeps salamanders as pets. He’s skilled and gifted all right, but only in sounding plausible to the politically naive.

  19. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/25/boris-johnson-eddie-mair-interview

    I see Boris was not complaining but his dad was quite indignant.

    It is a pity some of out pollies don’t get the same treatment instead of the anodyne and sometimes sycophantic interviews most commonly heard.

  20. Yes – let’s have some of this here.

    I missed your golden era in this role Brian, but it is constantly spoken of in these posts – I was on my OE at that time, watching Robin Day “NOW LOOK HERE, Prime Minister….” etc.

    Is there a link you can steer me towards?

  21. “If you thought Eddie Mair’s infamous BBC interview with Boris Johnson was bruising, take a look at this.

    A live TV row between two Lebanese politicians kicked off when they started telling each other to ‘eat s***’.
    The showdown makes Boris’s treatment by Mair, who called the London Mayor ‘a nasty piece of work’ on TV at the weekend, look positively tame.

    The video is captioned as saying that the pair exchange ‘further insults in Arabic’. Among them is the term ‘son of a bitch’, which is regarded a taboo term on TV in the Middle East.

    The studio then descends into chaos as glasses and cups are smashed. The studio host then battles to separate the warring politicians while one of them appears to brandish a CHAIR.

    The host shouts: ‘No! No! No! Gentlemen! Gentlemen!’

    The clip was first broadcast on Arabic TV two years ago but has now become a surprise hit on YouTube, notching up nearly 70,000 views after being translated.

    One YouTube user posted a comment saying: ‘I wish English politics were like this.. This is so amusing!’

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2299231/Lebanese-politicians-Mustafa-Alloush-Fayez-Shukor-kick-hilarious-live-TV-row-Syria.html

  22. And I’d have to say that the above interview is hardly Muldoon vs Walker. It is, however, quite thorough.

  23. He’s a cool, calm assassin, that Eddie Mair:

    From the pen-touching interruption at 4.08 (“Ahh, so if the public are misinformed and the politicians simply reflect that – that’s OK ?”, he had Boris on the back foot, the latter jabbering in a panic for the next 60 seconds.

    Some highlights:

    9.41
    Mair: You did lie
    Johnson: I don’t propose to go into all that again
    Mair: I don’t blame you !

    9.50
    Johnson: Why don’t we talk about something else ?
    Mair: Well, this is about your integrity
    Johnson: OK

    10.15
    Mair: What does that say about you, Boris Johnson ? Aren’t you, in fact, making up quotes, lying to your Party Leader, wanting to be part of someone being physically assaulted ? You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you ?

    10.57
    Johnson: Yes, it was certainly true that he was in a bit of a state and I did humour him…
    Mair (more than a little sarcastically): Ahhhh (reminded me a bit of the short, sharp Basil Fawlty stand-by: “I see”).

    11.16
    Mair: But even Conrad Black – your friend – a convicted fraudster – even he says he doesn’t trust you completely.

    11.40
    Oh, I love this !
    Mair (as kind, caring psychologist – setting poor Boris up yet again): Now if you dispute some of these things – you can be absolutely direct and honest and straightforward with me.

    12.42
    Mair: Do you want to be Prime Minister ? SAY IT !

    14.40
    But best of all by far, Boris in utter frustration, bordering on full panic – arms gesticulating wildly – does Eddie’s job for him:
    Johnson: People…don’t care about phone conversations with my friend 20 years ago, they don’t care about some ludicrous so-called made-up quote, wh-wh-wh-what’s the third accusation ? I can’t remember ?
    Mair (greatly enjoying himself): Lying to Michael Howard
    Johnson: Yeah, Michael Howard !!!
    Mair (giving Boris more rope to hang himself): Where is he now, eh ?!!!
    Johnson: Yeah, exactly !!!

  24. We used to do interviews of this sort on our mainstream television in the days when we thought that public television after the style of the BBC i.e. public service television which informed, was the way to go. Some of the interviewers who did that are still around but I’ll spare your blushes Brian by not naming them. But from the eighties we opted for another model for public television in which the emphasis was on return of a dividend (the SOE model) and so there was no premium on doing that sort of interview and they were replaced by the superficial tabloid stuff we now run and which does bring in the dollars. It’s no good complaining about it – we chose it by electing the governments we have done since.

    But even more interesting is that if we tried to do that sort of interview with today’s politicians the result would be blank incomprehension. I abhor Boris’s politics but the fact is that he is a well educated, sophisticated politician who can respond to this sort of interview at its own level. Regrettably most of our politicians are superficial and ignorant and would simply score points over any interviewer who tried that approach and would ‘win’ the exchange by doing so.

    • “Regrettably most of our politicians are superficial and ignorant and would simply score points over any interviewer who tried that approach and would ‘win’ the exchange by doing so.”
      Those who watch/listen will declare a Win if they are supporters of the the interviewee.
      Those who are not supporters of the interviewee will declare it a Loss.
      (Sometimes known as Bias.)

      • An interviewer who believes his subject is superficial and ignorant is wasting everyone’s time by doing the interview.

        • 24.1.1.1

          Interviewers often don’t get to choose their own interviewees. On the other hand they quickly learn that they will get a sharp slap on the wrist with something much more substantial than a wet bus ticket if they step outside their brief. When interviewers on television in the sixties (Austn Mitchell, Brian) started asking politicians real questions when current affairs first started in this country there was immediate uproar.

          • 24.1.1.1.1

            You shifted the goal posts. Irrespective of who chose the interviewee, if the interviewer has no respect for the subject little worthwhile will result unless you enjoy mindless bull fights.

            There was a lot more “uproar” in the sixties than mere TV interviews. I seem to recall war, sex, drugs and feminism amongst other things. Questioning authority didn’t start or end in the TV studio.

    • Can you identify a single point that came out of the interview that wasn’t simply a rehash of the documentary ot referenced? I can’t. So much for this supposedly insightful and informative interview.

      A series of insults doesn’t add anything to the sum of human knowledge.

      • 24.2.1

        Can you identify a single point that came out of the interview that wasn’t simply a rehash of the documentary ot referenced? I can’t. So much for this supposedly insightful and informative interview.

        A series of insults doesn’t add anything to the sum of human knowledge.

        What was the series of insults?

        As for your first question, I don’t know what was in the documentary as I haven’t seen it, but perhaps Boris Johnson’s views around immigration at the beginning in light of Cameron’s pending speech. Anyway, the questions were obviously partly done in the light of the documentary and I don’t see that as a problem. It was a legitimate line of questioning, relevant to the established image of Boris Johnson, that Johnson himself admitted he handled poorly. It ain’t world changing, but it was not too bad by comparison to the morning tv interviews you’d generally get here.

  25. So many of the comments here are from people who seem to want some sort of ‘blood on the floor’ and rate the interview and especially the interviewer in this way. We already have this sort of interviewing in New Zealand and not only is it extremely rude it’s also counterproductive as the politian becomes defensive and reveals little. Mary Wilson RNZ is perhaps the very worst of this type – she seldom actually asks a question and instead makes statements. She always interupts -especially of those she disapproves. We always know her opinion, why should we be interested?
    I have been increasingly watching SKY Australia political
    programmes and have been impressed as they allow politicians to say what they have to say – the viewer makes up their mind instead of having the interviewers opinions rammed down their throat.
    Surely an interviewers job is to elicit as much imformation – intended or not-as possible. Personally I don’t give a damn what the interviewers opinions are.

  26. The reality is, is the average Joe can’t be much bothered with watching these interviews nowadays. This is the Age of iPhones and the like, info is immediate and condensed, assimilated and processed very quickly; nobody has the time or patience to hear ponderous and prolonged questioning and probing. All bullshit talk, especially from pork barrel pollies. Couldn’t trust a poliie as far ias I could hoik up a wad of phlegm on to one.

    • “Couldn’t trust a poliie as far ias I could hoik up a wad of phlegm on to one.” So that’s the basis of modern opinion-forming is it? Eight 10 second sound bites and a hoik of the green stuff? You’ll decide for whom to vote, on that? God help us.

  27. Politian’s unfortunately have levels of truth which they will only divulge through certain forms of questioning.Letting them divulge the facts which suit them seems more like a Party Political Broadcast to me.

  28. I didn’t mind the interviewing style; what i was impressed with is that Boris turned up for it.I would like to see some of our politicians engage with the media. I am particularly thinking of the PM. I laugh every time I hear Mary Wilson say that the Prime Minister was not available to talk to Checkpoint tonight.

  29. I thought it was a pretty good interview, in context. One thing I can’t stand is interviewers who don’t let the subject answer. For the most part, Eddie Mair was happy to let Boris Johnson talk asking a question.

    I liked this view from the Guardian’s political editor:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/24/boris-johnson-interview-eddie-mair

    Also, I think Boris Johnson’s reaction since has been spot on. He’s provided an excuse (that he was prepared for a different line of questions) without sounding too defensive about it.

    Roger said:

    We already have this sort of interviewing in New Zealand and not only is it extremely rude it’s also counterproductive as the politian becomes defensive and reveals little. Mary Wilson RNZ is perhaps the very worst of this type – she seldom actually asks a question and instead makes statements. She always interupts -especially of those she disapproves. We always know her opinion, why should we be interested?
    I have been increasingly watching SKY Australia political programmes and have been impressed as they allow politicians to say what they have to say…

    I’m not sure what prompted this. Eddie gave Boris ample opportunity to have his say. We heard a lot more of Boris speaking during that interview than we heard from the interviewer – as it should be.

  30. After watching Susan Wood on Q&A with David Shearer today I would certainly say I am tired of that particular style of interviewing on our screens. Overbearing, pointing and nearly leaping out of her ‘blue’ dress!!

    I did think Shearer handled Wood’s spittle remarkably well, especially when asked if he considered himself a ‘rich prick’ he replied “no, but I do consider myself very fortunate, and not at all in John Key’s league”

  31. OT: Didn’t always agree with your posts, Brian, (rather obviously), but always enjoyed reading your urbanely crafted point of view. Will miss following your blog.